―Don‘t look at me like a bloody Puritan. You couldn‘t hope for a better situation. If you have the wrong baby at least it all stays in the family."

Annabel was speechless.

―Oh, and by the by, Louisa is coming, too. That pinched-up old aunt of hers took a chill and can‘t chaperone her this week, so I said I‘d take her along. We don‘t want her moldering in her room, do we?"

Annabel shook her head.

―Good. Get ready. We leave in an hour."

―You said two hours."

―Did I?" Lady Vickers blinked, then shrugged. ―I must have lied. Better that than forgot, in any case."

Annabel watched openmouthed as her grandmother left the room. Surely this would go down as the strangest, most momentous day in her life.

Except that she had a feeling that tomorrow might be even stranger…

Chapter Nineteen

The following morning

Sebastian knew exactly why he had been invited to Lady Challis‘s house party. She had never liked him, and he had certainly never been invited to any Challis function before. But Lady Challis, for all her sanctimonious ways, was an extremely competitive hostess, and if she could arrange the party of the year by having Annabel, Sebastian, and the Earl of Newbury all under one roof, then by God she was going to do it.

Seb did not particularly relish being anyone‘s puppet, but he wasn‘t about to allow Newbury unfettered access to Annabel by refusing the invitation.

Besides, he had told Annabel he would give her a day to consider his proposal, and meant to keep his promise. If she was going to be in Berkshire, in the home of Lord and Lady Challis, then so would he.

Seb was not a fool, though, and he knew that the Ladies Vickers, Challis, and whichever else of their cronies were in attendance would be cheering on Lord Newbury in the battle for Annabel.

The most successful wars were never fought alone, so he dragged Edward out of bed and tossed him in the carriage to Berkshire. Edward hadn‘t been invited, but he was young, unmarried, and as far as Sebastian knew, in possession of all of his teeth. Which meant that he would never be turned away from a country house party. Never.

―Do Harry and Olivia know you‘ve stolen their carriage?" Edward asked, rubbing his eyes.

―The correct term is commandeered, and yes, they know." Sort of. Sebastian had left a note.

―Who‘s going to be there?" Edward yawned.

―Cover your mouth."

Edward gave him a dirty look.

Sebastian lifted his chin as he peered impatiently out the window. The street was crowded, and the carriage was moving along at crawl. ―Besides Miss Winslow and my uncle, I have no idea."

―Miss Winslow," Edward said with a sigh.

―Don‘t," Seb snapped.


―Don‘t make that face when you‘re thinking about her."

―What face?"

―The one where you—" Seb went all stupid-eyed and let his tongue wag out the side of mouth.

―That one."

―Well, you must admit, she‘s very—"

―Don‘t say it," Seb warned.

―I was going to say charming," Edward informed him.

―You were not."

―She has very nice—"


―—eyes." Edward gave a smirky smile.

Sebastian glared at him, crossed his arms, and looked out the window. Then he uncrossed his arms, glared at Edward once more for good measure, and kicked him.

―What was that for?"

―For whatever inappropriate comment you were about to make."

Edward burst out laughing. And for once, Seb did not feel that he was being laughed with . This was definitely a laughing at .

―I have to say," Edward opined, ―it‘s really rather amusing that you should fall in love with the woman your uncle wants to marry."

Sebastian shifted uncomfortably in his seat. ―I‘m not in love with her."

―No," Edward said mockingly, ―you just want to marry her."

―Olivia told you?" Damn it, he‘d told Olivia not to say anything.

―She did not," Edward said with a grin. ―But you did."

―Whelp," Seb muttered.

―Do you think she‘ll say yes?"

―Why wouldn‘t she say yes?" Sebastian said defensively.

―Don‘t misunderstand, were I a woman, I can think of no one else I‘d prefer to marry—"

―I believe I speak for men across the world when I say that I am relieved that that is not a consideration."

Edward pulled a face at the insult but took no offense. ―Newbury can make her a countess," he reminded.

―I might be able to," Seb muttered.

―I thought you didn‘t care about the earldom."

―I don‘t." And he didn‘t. Except maybe now he did. ―Not for myself, anyway."

Edward shrugged, his head tilting ever so slightly to the side. There was something familiar about the motion, something Sebastian could not quite place.

Until he realized it was a bit like looking into the mirror.

―She hates him," he blurted out.

Edward yawned. ―She wouldn‘t be the first woman to marry a man she hated."

―He‘s three times her age."

―Again, not the first."

Seb finally threw out his hands in frustration. ―Why are you saying all of this?"

Edward‘s face grew serious. ―I merely believe in being prepared."

―So you think she will say no."

―Honestly, I have no idea. I‘ve never even seen the two of you in the same room. But I would rather see you pleasantly surprised than heartbroken."

―My heart won‘t be broken," Seb grumbled. Because she wasn‘t going to say no. She‘d told him she couldn‘t think clearly in his presence. If ever a woman wanted to say yes to a proposal of marriage it was Annabel.